photos: Photo courtesy of Mealshare.

An appetite for change

Heartbeats: Victoria and other small B.C. communities are sharing meals and taking names

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The number of youth who go hungry is a serious issue in our country. Meanwhile, millions of people eat out every day.

Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant recognized these two facts and, in July 2013, founded Mealshare. The organization partners with restaurants who donate one dollar from set menu items to partner charities combatting youth hunger.

Originally partnered with just two restaurants in Calgary, Mealshare has now connected local restaurants and charities across Canada —in cities in Alberta, Ontario, and Texas—and even Victoria, B.C. To date, more than 1.2 million meals have been served through this program.

Forks and knives
Derek Juno, vice-president of business and development with Mealshare, says it was created for “solving a really big issue— ending youth hunger in our lifetime— that is our big goal.” Juno believes that “everyone wants to give back, everyone wants to do something,” it's just a matter of reaching out and connecting with people. With Mealshare, "we’re creating a corporate social responsibility for a restaurant that wants to give back; making it easy to give back,” says Juno.

It can be difficult to get those five minutes to talk to a restaurant, but once they hear about Mealshare, they want to sign up.

In communities that do know about the organization, Mealshare has a running list of restaurants that want to join in.

But since it’s a small non-profit with limited bandwidth, says Juno, they can’t always access smaller communities as quickly as restaurants sometimes want to get on board. There was no plan to launch in the Cowichan Valley, "but an amazing group of volunteers wanted to make it happen,” he says. So Mealshare partnered with Rusticana Coffee, which has shared more than 1,200 meals.

Each summer and winter, Mealshare actively seeks to add new restaurants and charities to their program, matching the number of restaurants with the number of communities groups or charities in each city. And once a month restaurants make a meal for one of their charity partners.

This creates a “sense of excitement and passion connecting restaurant partners with charity partners,” says Juno.

For every dollar that Mealshare receives from restaurants, at least 70 cents go directly to providing meals through the charities. The other funds are used to run Mealshare and increase awareness around hunger issues. And from the money raised for meals, half is shared in the restaurant's local community and the other half go to meals through Save the Children.

Building bandwidth
“We only work with charities that use meals in a strategic way to have a longterm impact,” on eradicating hunger, says Juno. The funds directed to Save the Children go to providing meals to children in Mali, says Juno, where it is “amazing the impact these meals have had.” After connecting with Mealshare, enrolment more than doubled from the 2015 to 2016 school year at the 15 schools Mealshare helped provide lunchtime meals to.

And not just in Mali has food acted as an incentive towards children's increased education. Juno says that after running programs like the Breakfast Club of Canada, which takes place in Vancouver and Victoria, "what teachers realize after the breakfast program is that these kids are hungry," and it's so tough to try and learn when someone's hungry.

For those that doubt what a dollar can do, Juno says that it is "quite easy to stretch the dollar" and "pretty awesome what charities can do." Because Mealshare is mindful about working with socially and environmentally friendly restaurants and charities that serve "real, healthy meals, not just sugar,” he adds.

Charities often emphasize fruit and vegetables in their meals and are "able to stretch that dollar and make it very affordable."

The “main strategy is to hit metropolitan cities across North America,” Juno says, and to create an “alliance where eventually every restaurant will be part of Mealshare and completely blanket North America.”

Juno recognizes that Mealshare is “trying to end youth hunger and that doesn’t happen in a year or two,” but that “meals act as a handshake to get that impact started.”


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